Anti-Poverty Groups Gearing Up For Consultations

January 10, 2018

Stuart Neatby, Prince George Citizen, January 10th, 2018

Significant, ongoing increases to social assistance. A $15 minimum wage. Ten thousand units of new social housing per year. A 50 per cent reduction in tuition fees.

If local anti-poverty advocates have their way, these social policies could become a reality in B.C. The provincial government is organizing a roadtrip of public consultations related to their planned poverty reduction strategy and anti-poverty advocates, including many in the north, are hoping to push out large numbers of residents with lived experience of poverty to these meetings.

The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, an umbrella group composed of 70 member organizations, held a meeting on Monday afternoon aimed at preparing local organizations and non-profits to mobilize their members to attend these consultations. As part of their tour, the Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction is planning an event in Prince George on Feb. 7, although the time and location have not yet been posted.

Community meetings are also planned this week in Prince Rupert on Thursday, Terrace and Kitimat on Friday and Smithers on Saturday. “I’m hopeful there’s going to be some movement,” said Laura Bennett, who began working with the coalition as their northern coordinator last fall.

Bennett has personal experience living with poverty. She said that, despite the frequent association with the extremes of homelessness and addiction, an increasing number of those dealing with poverty fall into the ranks of the working poor.

“Many people are working, just getting by on $12 or $13 an hour,” Bennett said.

Shane Simpson, B.C.‘s Minister of Poverty Reduction and Social Development, said the latest data puts the number of B.C. residents living in poverty at 678,000, or 15 per cent of the population.

“Over 40 per cent of the people on that list have a paycheque coming into the house. They’re the working poor, they’re not on assistance or disability benefits. They have earned income - they’re employed but they can’t make ends meet,” Simpson said.

In response, Simpson plans to introduce a poverty reduction strategy in the legislature this spring. Similar strategies have already been enacted in most provinces in Canada, according to Simpson. The community consultations held by his ministry over the next three months will inform the legislation.

“That plan will lay out the details on how the government will proceed, whether it’s on housing issues, on childcare, on minimum wage, on income support, on education,” said Simpson.

The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, whose chairperson also sits on an advisory council to Simpson’s ministry, has published a poster on its website with a list of policy changes it plans to highlight in the consultations. These include $10 a day childcare, a $15 minimum wage, increased social spending on housing, higher social assistance rates, reductions tuition fees for students and subsidized dental and optical care for seniors.

Viveca Ellis, the leadership and development coordinator for the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, spoke at the meeting on Monday. She said the coalition is taking a role in encouraging people with lived experience of poverty to become involved in the consultations.

“The engagement process is not just ‘tell us your opinion,‘it really is about activating the whole province and working toward a vision that’s realistic and that will truly impact everybody,” Ellis said.

“After more than a decade of very austere social spending, we are in a very dark place. We need to hear from people. There’s nowhere to go but up.”


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